Day 2


Papers: Teens and Adults

Spatial abilities in Down syndrome: profiles and developmental trajectories

Su Morris (1), Emily K. Farran (1) Katie A. Gilligan-Lee (1)

  1. University of Surrey

Background: Spatial skills are essential for everyday living and independence, and are used for activities including tool use (feeding oneself, getting dressed) and navigation (finding your way to the shops) (Newcombe, 2018). There is convincing evidence that spatial intervention is successful in typically developing (TD) individuals (Uttal et al., 2013). However, the potential of spatial interventions for those with Down syndrome (DS) is hindered by the relative lack of literature on spatial skills and their development in this group.

Research questions: There are two research questions. First, what is the profile of strengths and weaknesses in spatial abilities in DS relative to typical development? Second, does the development of spatial abilities differ between people with DS and typical development?

Methods: Participants include 33 participants with DS (58% male; 10-35 years) and 131 typically developing children (53% male; 4-11 years). Participants completed verbal and non-verbal IQ measures, and spatial tasks assessing different sub-domains of spatial thinking including intrinsic skills (mental rotation, mental transformation, mental folding) and extrinsic skills (scaling, perspective taking and exploration).

Results: There was a similar spatial profile between DS and mental-age matched TD groups, with the exception of mental transformation for which the DS group had weaker performance. Although developmental trajectories revealed a similar developmental onset of both intrinsic and extrinsic spatial skills, there was a slower rate of spatial skill development thereafter for the DS participants.

Conclusion: Although individuals with DS have weaknesses in spatial skill, their performance aligns with mental-age matched TDs, and trajectories of improvement suggest a slower, but not atypical developmental pattern of spatial skill. Evidence that spatial development is simply slower in this group indicates potential for improving spatial skills through intervention, similar to interventions effective in the TD literature. This evidence is the foundation on which future spatial interventions can be developed.

Post High School Outcomes for Young Adults with Down Syndrome in the United States

Susan J. Loveall1, Marie Moore Channell2, Meghan Burke2, Derek Rodgers1

  1. University of Nebraska
  2. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign;

Background: One mandate of school and community-based resources in the United States is to prepare and support students as they transition out of high school. However, there is limited research on the post high school outcomes of young adults with Down syndrome (Channell & Loveall, 2018). The purpose of this mixed-methods study was to characterise employment, community-based living, and community engagement outcomes of young adults with Down syndrome who had recently transitioned out of high school.

Research Questions:

  1. What are the employment, community-based living, and community engagement outcomes of young adults with Down syndrome in the United States who exited high school in the last five years?
  2. What factors are associated with these outcomes?
  3. What is the nature of their employment?
  4. How satisfied are caregivers and young adults with Down syndrome in their employment/vocational outcomes?

Method: Caregivers (n=101) of young adults with Down syndrome who had exited high school within the past 5 years completed an online survey via Qualtrics. The survey included questions about their adult child’s post high school outcomes and satisfaction.

Results: Approximately half of the individuals with Down syndrome were reported to be working in some capacity. The most common category of work was “cleaning”, and the most regularly endorsed employer type was “restaurants”. Satisfaction, from the caregivers’ perspectives, was nuanced. Almost all young adults with Down syndrome were living with caregivers/family, but they were engaging in a variety of community activities each week. Greater adaptive functioning was related to more independent employment and more frequent community engagement. Greater parent involvement in transition planning was also related to greater community engagement.

Conclusion: Data from this project provide important insights into the transition outcomes of young adults with Down syndrome living in the United States and can be used to improve transition planning.


Key Messages:

  • Approximately half of the young adults with Down syndrome in our sample living in the United States found employment within the first five years of exiting high school. The most common type of job tasks involved cleaning (e.g., laundry, busing tables), and the most common employers were restaurants and stores.

  • Most young adults with Down syndrome were living at home with parents and caregivers and were active in their communities.

  • Daily living skills (adaptive functioning) appear particularly important to employment and community engagement outcomes.

  • There is a continued need for a person-centered focus in transition planning to identify the best supports for each individual’s successful transition. For example, professionals should consider job matching as part of the employment process; it’s not only finding a job that matters, but the right fit for each individual.


Narrative language abilities in adults with Down syndrome: A remote online elicitation study using the Multilingual Assessment Instrument for Narratives (MAIN)

Elisa Mattiauda1, Alexandra Perovic1, Angela Hassiotis2

  1. Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London (UCL), UK
  2. Department of Psychiatry, University College London (UCL), UK

Our research reports on the language abilities of a group of English-speaking adults and young people with Down syndrome, who were assessed remotely during a video call with the researcher and a caregiver. Participants completed a measure of narrative ability, the Multilingual Assessment Instrument for Narratives (MAIN), administered to elicit story retelling samples. Participants were presented with a picture based pre-recorded story, following which they were asked to re-tell the story while presented again with the relevant pictures. Analysis of macrostructure (e.g. structure and complexity) of the elicited narratives revealed that participants with Down syndrome produced narratives with fewer macrostructural components relative to a group of typically developing younger children matched on age of vocabulary comprehension. Participants with Down syndrome overall mentioned fewer Goal, Attempt, Outcome and Internal State elements in their retells and scored lower on a series of comprehension questions asked after the story, compared to their typically developing counterparts. The sample of people with Down syndrome described in this study ranged in age between 15 and 33 years, making this research one of the few studies focusing on language in adults with Down syndrome and one of the first to assess narrative ability remotely in this population. Previous research suggests that an assessment of narrative ability could offer insights into language difficulties associated with dementia-related decline in the general population. Given the documented risks for age and dementia-related cognitive changes in the population with Down syndrome, assessments of language skills could provide helpful markers for early detection of cognitive decline in adults who have Down syndrome. Characterising language abilities and documenting change in these skills as a result of ageing and neurodegeneration will allow us to provide improved support to individuals with Down syndrome and their families at all stages of life.

The Unique Contribution of Episodic Memory on Community Adaptive Behavior Skills in Young Adults with Down Syndrome

Chelsea Chen B.S., Kristina Baggett B.A., Gayle Faught Ph.D., Frances Conners Ph.D., The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL

Community living skills support independent living and social inclusion, affecting quality of life. Little is known about the underlying factors that support the development of these skills among adults with Down syndrome (DS). For the present analysis, we hypothesized episodic memory and community experience to be underlying factors.

Participants were 23 individuals with DS from 17 to 29 years old. Participants' primary caregivers completed a questionnaire on community adaptive behaviour and on community participation. Participants completed two measures of episodic memory.

Memory task scores were converted to a weighted composite score. Episodic memory, r=.552, p=.012, and community experience, r=.436, p=.048, significantly correlated with community living skills. We ran a simple multiple regression of community living skills on community experience and episodic memory. The overall model was significant, R2=.426,F(2,15)=5.564, p=0.016. Episodic memory uniquely explained 23.6% of the variance, p=.025, and community experience uniquely explained 12.1% of the variance, p=.096. As an exploratory analysis, we divided community adaptive skills by topic and found episodic memory positively correlated with 6 of 17 topics (pd<.05).

Overall, both episodic memory and community experience may be important to community living skills in young adults with DS. Alone, memory correlated with one third of community topics including: achieving goals and advanced safety outside of the home. A deeper understanding of the connection between episodic memory and community living skills could better inform practices that promote independence and community living in individuals with DS.


This study explore two factors which may contribute to community living skills.

Community living skills support independent living and social inclusion, affecting quality of life. In this study, we explored the contributions of episodic memory and community experience.

Twenty-three individuals with Down syndrome from 17 to 29 years old, including some with ASD or ADHD. Their primary caregivers completed a questionnaire on community adaptive behaviour and on community participation. Participants completed two measures of episodic memory.

Both episodic memory and the amount of community experience contributed to developing community living skills. Episodic memory made a larger contribution, but each contributed to different aspects of community skills.

While it may be easy to increase community skills, the next challenge is to consider how we might improve episodic memory as individuals with Down syndrome grow up.

Link to website for more information University of Alabama Intellectual Disabilities Participant Registry – Promoting research on intellectual disability | The University of Alabama